Determined to fly the flag
25th January 2018
While many of us were at home enjoying leftover turkey and plenty of chocolate, the England Men’s Volleyball Team were representing their country in a prestigious tournament.
The Novotel Cup took place last month between Christmas and New Year, and for the players representing their country it took a lot of hard work to get there. Not only have they reached the standard required to pull on an England shirt, they also funded the trip themselves too. The team are self-sufficient so must raise funds to compete at tournaments and train together.
"We would love to be able to fully fund our national teams and support all their efforts," says Volleyball England CEO Janet Inman. "That is not possible at the moment but we are really pleased and proud that the players are so dedicated to representing their country that they work hard to make things happen."
Here England captain Adam Bradbury gives us the inside story of how the team fared at the Novotel Cup and what it means to them to play for their country…
The Novotel Cup is an invitational tournament, mainly dedicated to national teams, which has achieved an excellent reputation in Europe. The tournament is played in the impressive Centre National Sportif et Culturel d’Coque and with the enthusiastic spectators of high-level sport that the competition attracts, it is clear to see why it has run for over 30 years.
In the 31st edition of the tournament there were three teams playing a double round robin; Luxembourg, Germany U20’s and England. The England team is still developing and rebuilding after programme changes and player retirements, so despite being a smaller tournament it would prove to be a challenging three days.
The first game of the tournament saw England face Germany U20’s. Despite being a junior team, their team included players from the top German league. Their opposite, Linus Webber, played with the German senior team in their impressive European Championship run.
The game was closely fought, but we came out on top with a 3:2 win (25:21 25:19 17:25 23:25 20:18). Though we were able to take a win in the first game of the tournament, it wasn’t a comfortable win, and we realised there were many areas in which we could improve.
Unfortunately, the lack of team preparation was made clear to us in this match, especially when compared to the drilled performance of the Germans. Though being underprepared would be prove a continual battle throughout the tournament, fortunately in this game the experience of the senior players was enough to get us through, with Sonny Chaney scoring 21 points and myself scoring 19.
The second and third game of our tournament were both to be played on the same day, competing against Germany in the morning and Luxembourg in the afternoon. Both games were losses; a 3-1 defeat against the Germans (18:25 27:25 25:16 25:17) followed by a disappointing 3-0 loss to Luxembourg (25:18 25:17 25:20). In both games, despite showing glimpses of the level we are able to reach, the consistency required to win international level matches was missing.
On the last day of the tournament, it was clear to the team that it was our last opportunity to perform, and we all wanted to seize it. We were to face Luxembourg again, but in this game they would be missing star setter Gilles Braas. He needed time to recover before heading back to his club, SWD Powervolleys Düren, to continue his club season in the top German league.
We were able to produce our most consistent volleyball of the tournament, but due to a good performance from Luxembourg, we lost the first set 25-19. Through the rest of the game it was clear that when we were able to maintain a high level we are a tough opponent, and we took the match 3-1 (25:19 13:25 17:25 14:25). This secured second place for us and we took home the silver medal.
There were ups and downs across the tournament but I think we can leave with our heads held high. We made significant improvements as a team in just four games. Being able to improve so quickly also highlights the amount of work we still have to do to be competitive at international level. We don’t know when the next competition will be for the national team but the players left Luxembourg committed to individual improvement that will hopefully show in our next performance.
Due to the huge funding cuts to Volleyball England, our senior national squad is funded by players. Each player has to pay for travel, accommodation and hall costs for the training camps that, as the Novotel Cup shows, we so clearly need. Then to compete, there is international travel costs and entry fees that we raised. For the squad, representing England is an honour that we’re willing to pay for. However, for England to continue improving as a national team, it’s clear we need to develop our programme.
The squad for the Novotel Cup tournament included two players born in 2000, Joe Palombo and Ali Ahmed, so it easy to see the growth possible in the future. Hopefully, volleyball within England can aspire to grow at the same rate these players aspire to grow at.
Adam Bradbury is the England captain and left-side player. He has played professional volleyball in Sweden and Australia, and now plays for Team Northumbria.